When the COVID shutdowns started happening, I fully expected ALA to at least shrink the annual conference — bringing 20,000+ librarians and vendors together was not the best plan. Ultimately they decided to cancel the physical conference and go virtual. Hearing that, I didn’t know what to expect because there is such a difference between a physical event and one online, between the way in which attendees interact with presenters and other attendees, or vendor conversations. But still… hopeful.
Usually when I’m preparing for ALA, my schedule is triple booked in places. I have a list of vendors I need to see for work. There are ARCs I know I want to try to get. And then there are meetings, networking opportunities, dinner with friends I only see at conference, etc.. You know, the fun side of things. Knowing that the “fun” wouldn’t be there, and recognizing that there might be fewer sessions (think of the bandwidth needed to have 250-300 programs, let alone vendor “booths”!), I was still hopeful.
Then I saw the scheduler. I had hoped that it was early days, and that things would be fitted in later. Nope. By the time the conference “opened”, I had two sessions planned, a bunch of 15min BookBuzz tastes, and debated the various speakers (like Natalie Portman and Stacy Abrams). AASL had no programs. I didn’t see any for ALSC or YALSA or LIRT. Where that fail came from I don’t know, but what I do know is that if there is another virtual conference, even fewer will attend because of this one.
ALA is in trouble, and I’ll be blogging about that later. Having a fully virtual conference, or recording all sessions and having a hybrid conference (at a lower price) could get those who can’t actually attend ALA Annual to go, perhaps leading them to participate more. It’s very understandable that in these economic times the price of admission (usually $300ish) plus travel plus hotel plus meals is a deterrent. $60 for a virtual conference you can “attend” from home in your jammies? That’s probably doable.
I don’t know what the plans are for ALA Midwinter 21, or Annual 21, but if the organization wants to increase member participation and excitement, they need to up their conference game. Fast.